Psalms 54–56: Distress, Prayer & Trust

Read the Bible in 2023 ◊ Week 19: Wednesday

Behold, God is my helper;
The Lord is the sustainer of my soul.
Psalm 54:4

Today’s Bible reading is Psalms 54–56. Before you begin reading ask God to give you comfort and help you from these psalms of David.

You’re probably familiar with verses from these psalms. David wrote them in distress and great need, and these psalms help us to look to God and trust Him as our helper and sustainer. From my earliest days as a new Christian I have found comfort from verses found here.

Cast your burden upon Yahweh and He will sustain you;
He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.
Psalm 55:22 LSB
When I am afraid,
I will trust in You
Psalm 56:3 LSB
You have taken account of my wanderings;
Put my tears in Your bottle.
they not in Your book?
Then my enemies will turn back in the day when I call;
This I know, that God is for me.
Psalm 56:8–9 LSB

When we know what David was facing when he wrote these psalms, it gives us further reason to trust God to help and sustain us in our own difficulties. The titles of Psalm 54 and 56, give you the exact circumstances. Derek Kidner gives us this background on Psalm 54:

“This psalm arose out of the testing experiences that followed those of Psalm 52. To be betrayed by Doeg the Edomite had been hardly a surprise (1 Sa. 22:22), but now David finds himself rejected by men of his own tribe (1 Sa. 23:19ff.; 26:1ff.), in spite of his rescue of one of their border towns from the Philistines (1 Sa. 23:1ff.). In this dangerous and disillusioning situation he turns again to God.”1

In his introduction to Psalm 55, Kidner writes:

“Such a cry as this helps to make the Psalter a book for the extremities of experience as well as for its normalities. The person who is driven to distraction finds a fellow-sufferer here; the rest of us may find a guide for our intercessions, so that we can pray with our brethren ‘as though in prison’ (or other distress) ‘with them’ (Heb. 13:3ff.). Further, the heart-rending passages on the betrayal (12ff., 20f.) give us added insight into the suffering of Christ, and at the same time into His self-mastery and redemptive attitude, in such a situation as gave David every reason to appeal for judgment.”2

Psalm 55 doesn’t give us a specific event, although Warren Wiersbe and others think David wrote probably wrote it during Absalom’s rebellion, and the friend who betrayed him is Ahithophel. Kidner notes on 55:9–11, that David wrote a similar prayer when betrayed by Ahithophel. He writes:

“In this part of the psalm, further, David’s personal trials make way for his public concern. This is God’s city, whose walls should be the reassurance of his people ([Ps.] 48:12ff.), not the parade-ground of rebels and terrorists (10), and whose market place (11) should be above reproach ([Ps.] 144:14).”3

Psalm 56 was written early in David’s life when he was fleeing from Saul for his life and went to Gath. Jonathan had warned him that Saul intended to kill him. David went to Ahimelech the priest for food and weapons (which Doeg the Edomite reported this to Saul). The weapon Ahimelech gave him was Goliath’s sword. Goliath was from Gath, and whether David had already planned going there, or seeing the sword gave him the idea to seek shelter there, David went to Gath. He was obviously desperate because David had not only killed Goliath, but gone to war against the Philistines and defeated them. Kidner writes:

“To have fled from Saul to Gath of all places, the home town of Goliath, took the courage of despair; it measured David’s estimate of his standing with his people. And now this has failed, and he is doubly-encircled. So far, his own followers were very few; the four hundred of 2 Samuel 22:10 were yet to be gathered. The psalm is the first of two which flowered from this crisis. It breaks through into thanksgiving at the end, which was to become the unclouded theme of Psalm 34.”4

David witnesses to us that God is our helper and sustainer during the worst times of our lives, because David isn’t simply venting his feelings—David is praying! He is calling out to God—this is happening, this is my distress, please hear my voice! We see a man at prayer because he knows God is his helper and sustainer. From David we learn to go to prayer to God because of who God is.

Save me, O God, by Your name,
And vindicate me by Your power.
Hear my prayer, O God;
Give ear to the words of my mouth.
Psalm 54:1–2 LSB
Give ear to my prayer, O God;
And do not hide Yourself from my supplication.
Psalm 55:1 LSB
Be gracious to me, O God, for man has trampled upon me;
Fighting all day long he oppresses me.
Psalm 56:1 LSB

A number of years ago I found Michael Dudash’s painting, “He Shall Hear My Voice.” I love his depiction of the woman praying with her open Bible in front of her. It’s based on Psalm 55:17.

As for me,
I will call out to God,
and Yahweh himself will answer me.
Evening and morning and noonday,
I will muse and murmur,
and he is sure to hear my voice.
Psalm 55:16–175

Alec Motyer divides Psalm 55 into David’s “turmoil” (vv. 1–8), his “‘all round the clock’ distress” (vv. 9–15) and the “‘all round the clock’ solution” (vv. 16–23). He says the Evening and morning and noonday of verse 17 is “The biblical way of describing the 24 hours of a day.”6 He writes he is sure to hear my voice at the end of verse 17 is in the “Perfect tense expressing certainty of future action (i.e. so certain that it can be stated as having happened.”7

I hope his thoughts on Psalm 55 and prayer will encourage you to turn to God in prayer. I’ve split it into two paragraphs for easier online reading.

“Regularity, setting specific times apart for prayer – and keeping to them in a disciplined way – is something the Bible encourages. We all find the story of Daniel’s practice in prayer moving to read (Dan. 6:10). How, in spite of the king’s foolish self-glorifying edict, he went to his upper room, with its windows towards Jerusalem, and knelt down three times a day. We sense not only the old man’s yearning heart for the city of God, but his confidence in prayer and his commitment. I wonder if Daniel had caught the vision of the threefold discipline from Psalm 55:17, ‘evening and morning and noonday’? How to end one day and begin another; how to stop in the middle of a busy life and turn to God. Isaiah made a forecast that the Servant of the LORD — the Lord Jesus — would practice the discipline of what we used to call ‘the morning watch’ (see Isaiah 50:4), and Mark 1:35 records an occasion when he did just that. In Acts 3:1 we find Peter and John keeping the statutory hour of prayer, the ninth hour, and the devout Cornelius testifies to the same prayer discipline (Acts 10:30).

“Should we be ‘evening, morning and noon’ people? The answer is ‘Why not?’ Two truths are important before we make excuses about the busyness of life today. First prayer is a simple thing not necessarily prolonged (Matthew 6:7–8), and secondly, none of the passages we have referred to says anything about the time when we pray or for what length of time. As soon as we think of starting the day with God, our minds begin thinking about four or five a.m. or some other unearthly hour — because we read somewhere that some great prayer-warrior was always up and about by then! ‘Setting aside time’ means just that — doing what is possible for us within our God-given day and our God-given abilities. Time to read a verse of the Bible; time to call upon God. And here’s a final thought: Psalm 55 begins with prayer (1) and ends with trust (23). If we say we are those who trust, those who are saved by faith, then a primary way this shows itself is to balance life’s demands with life’s prayers.”8

David prayed because he knew God. If we have believed in Jesus, David’s God is our God. May He teach us to pray and to trust in Him.

But I will trust in You.
Psalm 55:23b
In God I have put my trust, I shall not be afraid.
What can man do to me?
Psalm 56:11

For a brief overview of the structure and poetry of Psalms see my post, The Five Books of Psalms.
Silvesterzug Laterne: Bk muc. (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Miedo ajeno: RayNata. Public Domain.
He Shall Hear My Voice: ©C. Michael Dudash. Because this is a photo of my copy of this print, please do not download or copy it. You can probably find the print for sale online.
1,2,3,4Derek Kidner, Psalms 1–72, (Inter-Varsity Press, London, England: 1973) 197, 199, 200, 202–203.
5,6,7,8Alec Motyer, Psalms By The Day: A New Devotional Translation (Christian Focus Publications Ltd, Ross-shire, Scotland, U.K. 2016) 145, Motyer’s translation of Psalm 55:17; 143–145; 146; 147.

I’m using Michael Coley’s Bible reading plan (one page PDF to print) to read through the Bible in 2023. Each day my posts are on different books because he divides Bible readings into seven categories, one for each day of the week: Epistles, The Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy and Gospels. There’s more information on his plan and other ones at Read the Bible in 2023.

Copyright ©2011–2023 Iwana Carpenter

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